Happy 60th, Jonathan Davies - The Man Who Wowed Both Codes Of Rugby

Davies was captain of Wales in union, then led GB and Wales in league
12:55, 24 Oct 2022

It takes some kind of talent to brings two different sports to a standstill, but Jonathan Davies really was some kind of talent.

An ace rugby union fly-half for Wales and Neath, and later Llanelli, he had become his national team’s captain at a time when the Five Nations Championship was one of the must-watch TV appointments of the year. It made him a household name across the whole of the British Isles.

So when he made the switch to rugby league in 1989 to sign for Widnes, it thrust both sports onto the front pages.


Davies followed a small band of players who had left the amateur game in union to become a star in professional rugby league. The likes of Terry Holmes, who had left Cardiff for Bradford Northern, and David Bishop, Hull Kingston Rovers’ big-name addition from Pontypool, had paved the way for others to follow suit. But Davies was by far the biggest coup for the game of rugby league.

He had simply dazzled as a rugby union player. With a genial instinct for taking on defences at the right time, a step to fool any opponent and a belief in his kicking game which created many a unique try, Davies was the centrepiece of a great Wales side. But observers from a rugby league background might have been forgiven for thinking that those qualities would also make him a big success in their code.


Widnes legend Jim Mills and coach Doug Laughton certainly saw it, and it led to one of the most shocking transfers in rugby history. Davies was unveiled on a cold January day in ’89 to a packed press room at Widnes’ Naughton Park stadium after completing a £230,000 move from Llanelli.

“I’m going back home tomorrow morning with a couple of videos and a rule book,” he joked to the assembled press, but the scrutiny over his every move in those following weeks had Davies wondering if he’d done the right thing.

“I was slightly disillusioned with the regime in Wales at the time, but I never thought I would go to rugby league until I sat down with Jim Mills and Doug Laughton,” Davies told the BBC years later. “If I’d have known the fuss and the media focus that would be on me, maybe I wouldn’t have gone. I was trying to hide from the press in Wales and when I went up to Widnes it was just ridiculous, scenes I had never envisaged.”

The circus around him eventually died down, and while he was told by Laughton that he would never have what it took to be a half-back in rugby league he soon made his name first as a centre and then as a wonderful full-back. Widnes won the league in 1989 with Davies still making his transition, but it was on the international scene that he would make his lasting impact.

Having made his try-scoring debut for Great Britain in the 1990 trip to Papua New Guinea, he went on to captain his country in a 30-12 win over France in Perpignan in ’92. And in 1994 he had his most memorable moment in the red, white and blue, taking a Denis Betts pass on halfway, throwing an excellent dummy and then outstripping Australia’s defence to score in the corner. It was an Ashes Test-winning try, at Wembley Stadium, in front of 57,000 people.

By 1995 the influx of former rugby union stars from Wales had reached such a level that the Dragons had one of the best squads in the tournament at that year’s Rugby League World Cup. Davies captained them to the semi-final at Old Trafford, where they troubled England for long spells before going down 25-10 in what proved to be his last match in rugby league.

With rugby union having made the decision to finally allow professionalism, Davies returned to his first love with Cardiff, playing out the last two years of his career in blue and black.

On Monday, Davies turns 60 and Wales play a Rugby League World Cup match against Tonga in St Helens. The two remain intertwined, even 27 years after his last game. For every time the Welsh national team takes the field, there is a misty-eyed reminiscence of the great old days of rugby league in Wales. And Jonathan Davies was front and centre in that.

One of the best players ever to pull on the Wales rugby union jersey and almost certainly the greatest ever to don the red shirt in rugby league, Jonathan Davies had fans of both codes in awe.


*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject to Change

Suggested Searches:
The Sportsman
Manchester United
Manchester City
Premier League
Sportsman HQ
72-76 Cross St
Manchester M2 4JG
We will not ask you to provide any personal information when using The Sportsman website. You may see advertisement banners on the site, and if you choose to visit those websites, you will accept the terms and conditions and privacy policy applicable to those websites. The link below directs you to our Group Privacy Policy, and our Data Protection Officer can be contacted by email at: [email protected]

All original material is Copyright © 2019 by The Sportsman Communications Ltd.
Other material is copyright their respective owners.